Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Maundy Thursday


For the great three days of Holy Week, I want to leave aside my usual theme to share three great works of art which depict the final events of Jesus' life. For Maundy Thursday, I offer Salvador Dali's painting of the Last Supper. I have seen this painting at the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C. The canvas is huge and its effect stunning.

I am not enamored of Dali's beardless, blonde, blue-eyed Christ, though I recognize that it has a precedent in very early Christian art. In this painting Dali's Christ is clearly not intended to be the Jesus of history. It is an idealized and spiritualized semi-corporeal figure. Christ's gesture says, "This is my body" pointing to himself with his left hand, and with his right, to the equally insubstantial heavenly body overhead. On the table in front of him is a broken loaf of bread rendered as a solid and weighty object. Here, then, the heavenly Christ is bodily present.

In the perfectly symmetrical composition of the disciples kneeling at the table, the viewer's attention is drawn to the cup of wine which is placed slightly off-center. Dali was an extraordinary draftsman. He has rendered this cup, and the play of the sunlight (shining through the Christ figure) with precise realism. This glass of wine is the earthly presence of Christ's blood.

The golden geometric framework is, I believe, a dodecahedron, a form that Dali admired for its alleged perfection. I take it to be the canopy of heaven. The landscape in the background is Port Lligat, Dali's hometown. In the Sacrament of the Eucharist, heaven comes to us on earth. In the bread and wine, the body and blood of Christ are present and made real to us.

Blessed Maundy Thursday!

I found the image of Dali's painting here. Clicking the image will enlarge it.

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